mark and tiara

I miss Mark.

Mark’s my boyfriend, my partner of over a year. We met in college, and while we have gone through a LOT of ups and downs (including a two-month separation), we have worked through it and we’re still going strong.

Mark has been extremely, extremely supportive of everything I do. He often has more confidence in me than I have in myself! When everyone else thought I was being silly, and even when I thought “I can’t do this”, Mark was the one who encouraged me to go to Stockholm, give it a try, take a chance even if it meant learning a whole new language (this was when I found out that Swedish, not English, was their operating language). He was the first person I rang when I found out I had been accepted as a TestPilot.

We’re not alien to long distance. During the university semesters, we’re together, but during long holidays we both return home (well, he’s working now) – which means two different countries, two different continents, two different hemispheres. We still keep in touch nearly every day, from “honey I love you” to silly poems to notes about our day. It’s such a delight to hear his voice whenever I call him.

But the longest we’ve been apart for is three months. Three years seems like a lifetime, in that respect. Sure, it’s not three years continuously; there are holidays, and projects, and outposts. It would be ten months at the most. But ten months is still long. Very, very long.

My parents did the long-distance thing right after they got married. Soon after the registration (as in, about a week) my dad left Bangladesh to do his Masters in Turkey. He spent three years there and didn’t come back for holidays or breaks. My poor mother had to contend with aerogrammes – the telephone hadn’t reach Bangladesh properly at that point. And there was a burgeoning civil war (the war that would eventually lead to the formation of Bangladesh as an independent entity) so it wasn’t entirely safe to go back. Nearly forty years later, they are still together, and often one parent would disappear to another country for one to three months for work or family issues or somesuch. Still, you can tell that it’s taken a toll on my mum (at least): she has terrible Empty Nest Syndrome, and even when my sister and I have been away from the house for eons, she still hasn’t gotten over it.

I don’t mind leaving home. I don’t know if I have a home, really. I haven’t found a place that is really mine. I don’t get homesick. I get along with my parents better when we’re apart, anyway (too much energy and tension in one place!). All my life I’ve had close friends go far, far away. One of my best friends, whom I consider a soul sister, and I lost touch for nine months and I was devastated (I was in a bad place in life, so her being missing just added to the stress). I consider my Up with People crew family, yet everyone lives in all sorts of different countries. I’m more in touch with my friends that went overseas than with my friends who are still relatively local. You’d think I’d be used to this long-distance business.

Yet with Mark, it just gets too hard. On the one hand, I know I don’t need him around 24/7 to get on with my life, and he doesn’t need me around 24/7 to get on with his life. We both have our own lives, which has each other prominently but does not entirely consist of just our relationship. If we didn’t have the ability to be independent, it would get too painful to even go to a conference for a week!

But ten months without someone to hold you, without someone to touch you and be touched, kiss and be kissed; without someone to hold you up when you’re down or cheer with you when you’re up; without someone to vent about the day to or cook for or watch TV with or have intellectual debates or visit silly websites or do things with…I don’t know how I am going to cope.

I have a strong feeling that it was our relationship – or rather, my anxiety about leaving him behind – that lost me a spot in Stockholm. My 20-minute interview spent too much time on how I’d cope without him. At the end of the workshop I let out my feelings about leaving my love behind, and one of my teammates said that I have to think about which I would miss most.

I want to be a KaosPilot. I want to learn how to put my ideas into action. I want to be in a supportive environment, where my work actually matters, where I’m free to be me, where I get to learn by doing. As Mark put it so succinctly, he’d rather see me happy everyday doing what I “should be” doing, even if it takes me far away from him, then for me to be sad with my everyday things and only be happy with the occasional event that is technically something I shouldn’t be doing (i.e. missing class to go to a conference or workshop). He noticed how unhappy I was at university, how I was lacking energy to do the things I normally loved doing, how I was very often stressed and upset. Indeed, this past year, particularly the past few months, has been especially rough on me. I’ve spent more time crying than laughing. While he would like me to stay, he would rather I do something that makes my heart sing.

He wants me to be happy, even at the cost of his happiness.

We’ve talked this over many, many times, and we’ve decided to give the relationship a go even if we’re far away. However, if it doesn’t work out, we’d accept that and move on. But the thought of breaking up just because I got busy in Denmark…that’s heartbreaking. I’ve broken up with him once (long story) and I do NOT want to go through that again. Bad choice on my end. I want to make it work.

So many people say that if you’re not willing to sacrifice for your partner, you don’t really love them. Is this me? Am I being selfish because I want to explore something that would take me away from Mark? Do I really love him if I’m willing to think about being a KaosPilot, to go through all this effort? I’ve thought about giving up the KaosPilot business, of giving up any business that takes me travelling anyway, and just settle down with him. Cook him dinner. Cuddle and relax. That would be nice. But I’d always wonder “what if”, I’d always feel like there’s something I haven’t done yet.

But I’d probably feel the same way in Aarhus. Like I’ve left a large part of me behind. Chasing material career goals instead of love and care. I’d be like the scene in Amelie where she looks at a TV documentary of her life – she saved the world but died lonely.

My best friend told me I could have it all. That I could go to the KaosPilots and make such a big impact on my society, and still be with Mark and be happy with him. Is this possible? Can we really have it all?

Mark has a special connection to Denmark. He went to Copenhagen on a year-long exchange in 2005 and now he thinks he’s half-Danish. He longs for any opportunity to speak Danish, even to me (though I hardly understand). We say “ja elsker dig” just as often as “I love you”. He was thrilled when I went to Denmark for my Scandinavian trip. He’s thinking of visiting Denmark again when his job contract ends in September…just in nice timing to coincide with my first few weeks as a KaosPilot. Having his girl live in Denmark for three years would be especially poignant for him. Who knows, we might decide to settle in Denmark and have Danish-speaking Eurasian babies. That’d be funny.

Not everyone in the KaosPilots is a singleton, right? Some of them have families, kids! Not everyone lives within 100 meters of Aarhus. Surely some have made a long trek across and left loved ones behind. How do you do it? How do you cope without your partner? What do you do to keep the relationship alive?